When people ask Luke Evslin why he decided to live off the grid, he starts with the time he almost died.
Evslin grew up on Kauai, a nub of a former volcano at the oldest end of the Hawaiian archipelago, but he was living on nearby Oahu at the time of the accident, working and competing in races with an outrigger canoe club.
The biggest race of the year is a daylong ocean crossing from the island of Moloka’i to Oahu’s Waikiki Beach, which can take between five and eight hours. Exhausted paddlers rotate out of the canoe during the race, jumping into the water to be scooped up by a waiting motorboat. During the first switch, Evslin was getting ready to heave himself into the canoe when the motorboat struck him.
The propellor sliced across his back in five places, severing muscle and bone along his spine and pelvis, each cut a potential death blow. His teammates pulled him out of the ocean and rushed him to shore. Judging from the looks on everyone’s faces, Evslin wasn’t sure he would survive the hour-long trip to land.
“I wasn’t scared to die,” he wrote a month later from his hospital bed, “but I was sad to die. I realized how much I love our beautiful world and everyone that is a part of it … and I was sad that I’d only just noticed.”
Soon after, still recovering from his wounds, “I made the terrible choice to read Walden,” Evslin recalls. He came across these famous words from Henry David Thoreau: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
Evslin began dreaming of a self-sufficient life, in touch with nature and free of the careless consumption of modern society. He convinced his then-fiancee, Sokchea, to move to a rainy acre on his native Kauai, where they built an off-grid yurt powered by six solar panels and a bank of batteries.